West Africa: Suguba Helps Host the 20 Start-Ups Selected for L'afrique Excelle Programme - 'We Want to Foster a Regionally Connected West Africa'

The challenge for start-ups in francophone Africa is that individual country markets are relatively small and it's not easy to operate regionally across multiple countries. Russell Southwood talks to Issam Chleuh, Co-Founder and Managing Director, Suguba about how it is seeking to tackle the problem and its involvement with the L'Afrique Excelle programme.

The idea for Suguba (which means big marketplace in manding) came from Issam Chleuh's own life journey. Born in Mali, he grew up in Africa, living in eight different countries as a child but went to the USA and worked in finance. When the 2008 financial crisis came along, he found himself drawn to the discussions about impact investing as one way of fixing what was wrong with the system. He ran Africa Impact Group that advised both public and private clients on impact investing.

He is also keen to promote the links between trade and regional integration:"We want to foster a regionally connected West Africa but first you need to grow entrepreneurs nationally."

Suguba was launched with the Dutch Good Growth Fund (DGGF) as the anchor investor with the objective of increasing the number of investable start-ups in the region.

Conscious of the need to foster a francophone West African market for its start-ups it has opened three start-up hubs. It started Impact Hub Bamako three years ago and it has provided training to over 200 entrepreneurs. Using this experience, a year ago it launched Impact Dakar and last month it added Impact Abidjan to its roster. He is currently looking at the idea of adding a fourth hub in Conakry.

Through SuguLab, one of the Suguba co-founders works with an entrepreneur to help them to reach their objective over up to 6 months. It uses what it calls its deep investor network, its strategy and its general management experience to enable the entrepreneur to accelerate his or her performance:"Once we receive your specific goal and gather initial information about your company, we will develop a targeted and personalized program for you. We will be available to interact regularly in person (or on skype or googlehangouts) to follow up on the plan we will have developed and check on progress. The collaboration will end once the milestone has been reached".

In November last year the World Bank launched L'Afrique Excelle, the Francophone edition of the XL Africa accelerator it implemented in 2017, in partnership with the Tubaniso Agribusiness and Innovation Centre and managed by VC4A, Suguba and SahelInnov. In addition, as part of the programme, L'Afrique Excelle will assist participants to raise up to $5-million from investors.

Of the twenty startups, eighteen come from francophone Africa (Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Madagascar, Mauritius, Niger, Senegal), while two are from anglophone countries, Tanzania and Kenya. The selected start-ups are:

StarNew Mobile (Cameroon): A network of mobile video channels that allows celebrities and brands to monetise their fan bases in Africa.

Gifted Mom (Cameroon): This mobile-based maternal health education solution aims to reduce maternal mortality rates in emerging markets by 9.7% annually.

Paps (Senegal): Paps is an on-demand delivery service.

TripAfrique (Ivory Coast): TripAfrique is a Pan-African platform that provides users with key information for comparison of bus, flight, train or boat schedules and ticket prices.

Firefly Media (Senegal): Firefly is a full-service advertising agency that specialises in public transport.

Ama (Senegal): This digital lending platform enables small business owners in West Africa to apply for loans to fund their short-term business needs.

Solaris Offgrid (Tanzania): Solaris Offgrid develops and sells energy solutions -- like solar home systems, cook stoves and smart meters -- on a pay as you go and mobile payment model.

Optimetriks (Kenya): Optimetrics helps fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) firms operating in Africa better manage their distribution -especially in the informal trade sector -- through a scientific and data-driven approach.

MaTontine (Senegal): This fintech startup provides access to financial services and insurance services by digitising traditional savings circles.

LAfricaMobile (Senegal): LAfricaMobile is a multichannel mobile platform that allows startups and African organisations to interact better with mobile users.

Ouicarry (Senegal): Ouicarry is an ecommerce and international transport company that helps customers in Africa buy online goods from websites around the world.

LiFi LED (Ivory Coast): LiFi LED specialises in the integration of LiFi solutions.

LONO (Ivory Coast): This cleantech startup develops tech that converts waste into energy.

Sudpay (Senegal): Sudpay develops service and electronic payment platforms that range from digital ticketing, mobility, financial resource collection, as well as multi-operator payment solutions.

Exportunity GBC2 (Mauritius): Exportunity Global Trade hub is a virtual market that connects vendors and sellers by organising and managing business-to-customer (B2C) and business-to-business (B2B) trade in and between African countries.

SmartOne (Madagascar): SmartOne is a data annotation service that provides high quality and high scale human-in-the-loop data to feed artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) projects.

CityTaps (Niger / France): CityTaps develops technological and financial solutions to enable water utilities to connect all urban people to their networks.

Diool (Cameroon): Fintech startup Diool has developed a service which aims to simplify payments between people in Africa online or at cash points.

Oniriq (Senegal / France): Oniriq develops connected solar kits for rural African communities in West Africa.

Eyone (Senegal): Eyone specialises in software publishing, consulting and information systems architecture.

The cohort was selected by an internal investor committee, with the participation of a panel of industry experts from Africa-focused funds that included: Proparco, Orange Digital Ventures, GSMA, Brightmore Capital, BlackPearl, Partech, AHL Venture Partners, GreenTec Capital, Outlierz Ventures, Accion, Compass VC, Oikocredit and the First Growth Fund.

The accelerator programme will kick off with a week-long residency from 24 to 30 March in Mali. The residency will see the start-upsbenefit from training, individual consultations and peer-to-peer learning. The residency will conclude with a venture showcase at the Francophone Africa Investor Summit on 28 and 29 March in Bamako, Mali.

Thereafter, 10 companies will be selected to travel to the programme's residency in France in May. During the residency, the cohort will receive more training and mentoring at The Camp with Sophia Business Angels, and with coaching by experts from Deloitte and Google. In addition, the 10 companies will also get exposure to investors at the AfroBytes and VivaTech conferences.

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